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Moonlighting Debate: Do IT brands and ad agencies have similar problems?

Low entry-level salary and lack of exposure to upskilling programmes have fuelled the practice of moonlighting in IT and advertising.

By  Priyanka NairNov 1, 2022 10:17 AM
Moonlighting Debate: Do IT brands and ad agencies have similar problems?
While the debate on moonlighting rages on, one thing's for certain: Corporations certainly can't brush aside new work norms and go back to the old normal. They will have to work together with employees toward a new future of work. Because the old one just ain't working. (Representational image via Unsplash)

IT brands Tata Consultancy Services (TCS), Infosys and Wipro are making headlines for taking a strong stand on moonlighting. TCS recently said moonlighting is an ethical issue. The company also communicated its position on moonlighting to all its employees. TCS has clear notes in the employment contracts stating that they aren’t allowed to work for any other organisation.

In September 2022, Wipro Chairman Rishad Premji, got a lot of flak for terming the practice of moonlighting as ‘cheating’. The IT major later found 300 people working directly for one of their competitors. “Certain employees found to be operating in circumstances that are in direct conflict with Wipro’s interests have been terminated," a Wipro spokesperson said in a statement.

On the other hand, Infosys said the company will support employees taking on certain side projects after prior approval of managers. The IT giant is mulling comprehensive policies to allow employees to take on gigs on the side externally. However, Infosys is clear that the company does not support dual employment.

IT industry body Nasscom has called for a complete reimagination of employee engagement models for the new hybrid way of working as the moonlighting debate heats up.

Experts believe low entry-level salaries in the IT industry have contributed to moonlighting.

Why are adlanders moonlighting?

Advertising industry has several similar issues. Pursuing passion projects is actively encouraged by many advertising agencies and moonlighting is an open secret in adland.

But it’s not just passion that drives people to look for work elsewhere.

The temptation of moonlighting stems from the fact that ad agencies don’t pay well. The average salary of an entry-level copywriter is anywhere between Rs 2 Lakhs to Rs 4 Lakhs per annum. It is similar for art directors. In the case of account management executives, it’s about 10 percent more.

Many professionals from the industry said they need multiple activities to keep their creative juices flowing. Working with the same set of brands at an agency can get monotonous. That’s why many look for projects outside to take a break from the routine.

To which advertising veteran and founder of Spatial Access, Meenakshi Menon, had a different take. She thinks if an employee is bored with an account, he or she should go up to the creative director and look for a different project within the agency. “The idea of moonlighting is interesting but not at the cost of unethical practices…There are a lot of layers in an agency that talent can explore. However, transparency is key,” she added.

Agencies don’t put in enough effort to upskill their employees, said a few other senior executives from agencies.

But global networks are trying to fix this gap.

In an interview with Storyboard18, Bella Patel, global chief talent officer, FCB, said the creative network doesn’t support moonlighting.

She explained, “If you are working with one agency, it’s not right to take up work from another one or brands directly. That’s not right at all. However, what we do support is the side-hustles that our employees want to take up which are not the same kind of work they do in the agency. We do understand everyone needs a creative outlet, so we totally encourage employees to enhance their passion points.”

Lack of upskilling is also one of the reasons behind moonlighting. IT companies in India have started factoring it in.

Globally, companies have already made moves in that direction. For instance, in 2020 Accenture invested nearly $1 billion annually in reskilling, training and learning initiatives for its employees. Infosys runs a programme called Accelerate. Over 4,000 people apply on the Accelerate platform, and about 600 get selected.

Major ad networks like WPP, Publicis, Dentsu, and others are also working to upskill young adlanders.

For instance, WPP and Epic Games, the interactive entertainment company and developer of Fortnite and Unreal Engine, have inked a partnership to help the network’s agencies deliver a new era of digital experiences for brands in the metaverse. The partnership will include a new training program to upskill thousands of WPP creatives and technologists on how to create custom brand experiences in Fortnite, and how to use Unreal Engine for real-time 3D creation and virtual production.

While the debate on moonlighting rages on, one thing's for certain: Corporations certainly can't brush new work norms aside and go back to the old normal. They will have to work together with employees toward a new future of work. Because the old one just ain't working.

First Published on Oct 20, 2022 9:23 AM